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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

An Eventful Journey Part 2


About an hour and a half later the accident cleared and we started again, following a snow plow which created a safe path in front of us to drive on. For a while things went well, until the snowplow stopped, and we had to continue on our own. On we drove through the remote mountains on slippery, snow covered roads, in a vehicle with summer tires. We were praying almost non stop. And constantly in the back of our minds was the thought of that $1700 flight leaving at 6:55 in the morning for which we had no insurance. The road seemed to keep going forever. We hoped to find a taxi with better tires to take us to the border but it was nearly 2 in the morning, and the police man we met told us the chances of finding a taxi out at that time of night in this weather were very slim. We had no choice but to continue. He told us we were not far from the border.

Finally we came to another steep section of road and the car would go no further. We had only one option left. We were on a remote mountainside, in 6 or so inches of snow, it was still falling and it was about 3 in the morning. We got out of the car and started walking, dragging our luggage through the snow behind us, hoping that the border crossing was close. I was in no way prepared for walking in snowy weather, dragging luggage behind me. I had only decided to bring my coat with me at the last minute, not to mention that I wasn’t fully recovered from my sickness. Within a few minutes my feet were soaked, but on we trudged. I felt like I was walking in a dream. Several cars passed, and out of desperation we waved at them to stop. The first two or so passed, but then came a van that stopped, it was as if he had an appointment to pick us up. He had a large van, completely empty, with two extra seats up front, and when we explained our situation he was more than willing to take us the rest of the way to the border. Sashe and Marija said goodbye, and headed back to their car. We continued, in this van, with a complete stranger at 3 in the morning in the snow and cold. I could hardly believe this was really happening to me. I spoke with him in Macedonian at first, and he responded in Bulgarian. In this way it came across that he thought we were Macedonian. When I told him we were actually from America he said, "Oh, well I know English." I thought, "Yes, that would be extremely helpful at this moment." To fill up the silence as we drove, we questioned each other about our occupations, when he learned we are working with a protestant church there was a pause. Then he said, you know there are some people who go to these churches and they are crazy, they’re a little wrong in the head and they say all these !@#$ things. He asked if we were part of one of those churches, I laughed and told him no, but in retrospect, I think we may have been thinking of different things. Oh well, harmony remained between us at any rate.

We came to the border crossing, where the guard was asleep due to the lateness of the hour. Suddenly I realized how suspicious our situation looked and how much of a risk this man had taken to drive us across the border. Here were two American girls in this van at three in the morning with this Bulgarian man. Our Bulgarian friend didn’t want us to have to get out in the cold and snow, so he just took our passports and gave them to the border official, explaining our situation. The guard was unconvinced and wanted to hear our side of the story. He opened the door, looked at us, then back at our driver and asked, “So is this man your friend?”. The ludicrousness of our situation struck me as I pondered how to answer. If I said no, it would make the guard suspicious that we were being kidnapped, but if I said yes, well, I only met the guy ten minutes ago, didn't even know his name, and certainly had no way of proving he was my friend. So, we decided just to tell the guard exactly what happened. We said, “This man picked us up because we were walking along in the snow." The incredulous look on the man’s face was priceless, “You were walking along the road in this weather?” "Yes,", we responded innocently, "and there is a taxi driver waiting for us at the other side of the border, and we have to catch a flight at 6:55." The guard, unconvinced asked if we wanted to be with this guy and if we were sure there was a taxi waiting for us. Though I was grateful for his care to make sure that we were not being kidnapped, I really wanted to get going as fast as possible so I kept praying that he would decide just to let us through. We assured him everything was okay. Though he seemed to remain unconvinced, and shocked at the craziness of our situation, he let us through with a disgusted little shrug, and sarcastically invited us to come visit again.

Finally we made it to the other side, where our taxi driver was waiting. We shook hands and bade farewell to our new hero, whose name we are still ignorant of, and began a hasty departure to the airport. It was doubtful if we would arrive on time. Our taxi drivers did not speak English, and were Bulgarian. Thankfully my Macedonian was enough to communicate the essentials with them, namely the fact that our flight left at 6:55 (by this time it was four in the morning). We still had a good bit of driving in front of us, and they didn't seem to have much hope that we would make it on time.

On we went, over the snow covered mountain roads, careening around corners, passing a recent avalanche of snow that had come down the mountain. Meanwhile Jenn and I busted out laughing as the stress had let up a little and we realized the ridiculousness of our situation. After a couple hours of stressful driving, we were delivered to the airport at 6:05. We had fifty minutes to catch our international flight. A helpful check in lady got our luggage checked quickly, and told us we'd better run to get to security. We heeded her instructions, and got through security and to our gate just as it was boarding. If we had been about ten minutes later we would have missed our flight. With soaked feet, in utter exhaustion, we climbed on that plane and slept, so grateful that we did not miss our flight, and that we were not harmed in any way.

Looking back I marvel at the way God guided us through every moment. It all happened so fast I hardly knew what hit me, yet through it all, he was watching over our every step, and giving us favor. If I had known in advance what I would face that night, I'm not sure what I would have thought. But I learned a very important lesson in a way I will not soon forget. Living life on the front lines of ministry, on the edge as it were, of this battle taking place, there are moments when the protective presence of God is more important to take into consideration than the possible results of what may look like an unwise decision. I would not have chosen to take a ride from a stranger in a country where trafficking occurs. However, as we were loading our bags in that van, I learned something with an assurance that I don't think will leave me for the rest of my life. In my heart there was a deep peace, at the moment I was so stunned by everything that it didn't immediately strike me from whence that peace flowed, but I see it now. It is the reality that perfect safety for me is not found in situations free of danger, but rather, in the center of God's will for me. It is there that angels are sent to fight on my behalf, where God does the impossible, where he grants favor, and works so quickly and minutely on my behalf that my brain can hardly comprehend even the possibility of it. I am convinced that no matter what dangers I face in the future, I am perfectly safe in the center of His presence, and His will. I would not trade learning this lesson for anything.

I fully intend to walk in the footsteps of other children of God who have gone before me. I intend to go wherever I see Him leading me, and do whatever I see Him doing, regardless of the danger. I am convinced that under His wings is a place of refuge for me, that he is my protector, my deliverer, my provider and my safe place, no matter what is going on around me.

Monday, March 22, 2010

An Eventful Journey Part 1

I think it was an opportunity for God to show his ability to work on our behalf, but at the same time it was more of an adventure than we had bargained for. I woke up the morning of our departure day still sick, my body ached, I didn’t feel like eating and my throat was sore. We continued with plans, saying hurried good byes, and working on last minute details.

I was worn out and knew I would probably be up most of the night, so I lay down on the couch to take a nap. I was in a sort of half asleep state when suddenly the couch began to shake. I froze, thinking at first it was just my imagination, but the shaking continued, and there was definitely no one in the room but me. I sat up and looked around to discover that the light fixture on the ceiling was shaking as well. Apparently I had experienced an earthquake. Suddenly I didn’t feel so much like sleeping any more. So much for preparing for the long night ahead with a little bit of rest.

With only a few hours left until departure, we still had to purchase traveler’s insurance for our trip. I got on Skype and called the company we usually use in America only to discover that they do not offer insurance to residents of Europe coming to America to visit. We hurried to the center of Skopje in the cold, slushy weather and crazy traffic, and got to the travel agency only to discover that they could not offer us insurance because we are Americans traveling to our home country. So, I can’t get insurance from America because I live in Macedonia, and I can’t get it from Macedonia because I am an American citizen. I feel like I’m in no man’s land. We had no choice but to proceed with plans without insurance.

Ten P.M. came and Sashe and Marija (our pastor and his wife) appeared to drive us to the Bulgarian border where a taxi would meet us and take us to the airport in Sofia where our flight departed at 6:55 in the morning. We had plenty of extra time, but it was snowing, in the middle of March mind you, and showing no sign of stopping. And Sashe’s car had summer tires. At first it wasn’t that bad, the snow was wet, and it wasn’t sticking to the roads. But the further we went, the more it stuck. We stopped at a toll booth, and Sashe asked the worker how she was doing, and made a comment about the beauty of the snow, and the romantic atmosphere it created. The woman laughed, and handed us our change. We moved on only to discover that the woman had been distracted laughing at Sashe and had given us too much change. We stopped, and Marija went back to return the change. On we drove, the roads getting worse and worse. I fell asleep and next thing I knew I woke up to discover that we were swerving uncontrollably around the round, with other cars around us. We all started praying, and came to a safe stop just before hitting the car in front of us. But, just a couple of cars ahead there was an accident. The cars had collided and several people were injured. The road was blocked and we had to wait. While sitting there we quickly came to the realization that if we had not stopped and gone back to return the money to the lady at the toll booth, it would probably have been us in the middle of that accident.

Time was ticking away, and the snow was still falling. We contacted the taxi driver in hopes that he could come meet us at the other side of the accident because the police were saying it might be two hours before the roads were cleared and we could pass. Unfortunately, he had come in a four wheel drive instead of his usual Mercedes because of the snow, and did not have the necessary paper work for that vehicle to cross the border. He could only wait there, and we could only wait for the
accident to get cleared away. In the mean time, the snow continued falling.

Part II will follow...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

From the Other Side

Quite unexpectedly I am getting to experience the other side of the picture from what I have in the past. Instead of being an American visiting Europe, I am about to be someone from Europe visiting America, and I am discovering that the difference between the two is greater than I would have imagined.
We hit a sudden problem with our visa application process and were informed that we needed to make a trip to America to appear in the embassy in person for the purpose of getting a stamp put on one of our pieces of paper. Furthermore, our application process took long enough that our criminal record searches expired, and we now have to reapply for them. So, after a week of exploring options, intense decision making, and faith stretching experiences, we bought plane tickets last evening and are preparing to leave for Bulgaria within the hour where we will take a flight back to Washington DC. We will be home for three and a half weeks.
From my human perspective it looks like this is the worst possible time for us to leave Macedonia, many things are coming to a crisis point here, and I don't want to leave the people that I care about. But I am choosing to trust that God has a plan and that He will take care of everything here while we are gone.
Please pray with us for several things; for favor everywhere we go, for financial provision, for health (I got sick the same day we bought the plane ticket and have not fully recovered), for God to order our steps everywhere we go.
If anyone would like me to come share at their home group, church etc. while I am home about what I am doing here, let me know, and I can try to make it work. Contact me by e-mail at mylilyofthevalley@gmail.com .

Monday, March 8, 2010

Veles, Macedonia

It all started on my first trip to Macedonia in 2008. For a couple of days I was sent to a city about an hour from Skopje, known as Veles. We went from house to house meeting and praying with people. During those few days, and on my next trip to Macedonia the following Spring God planted in my heart a deep love for the people in this city. I was asked by the leaders to come back and help with the ladies in the young church there. This call of God was confirmed in many unmistakeable ways, and was a large part of my decision to move here.

The church in Veles is a plant of one of the churches I am a part of in Skopje. They are very young, the oldest member being 25 years of age. Most, if not all of them have gotten saved in the past few years. The majority of the church is men, but there are five girls. Magde is 20 years of age, married to Ane, one of the elders. Magde and Ane have 2 children and are expecting their 3rd. Daki is 23 or 24 I believe, married to Mace, another one of the elders, and they have one little boy. Brigita is 20, married to Ivica, with a little girl, and another one on the way. Pina (pictured above with me) is 25, married to Viktor. Milka is 22, and the story of how she met Jesus is an amazing testimony to how God pursues us with His love. God has given me a deep love for each of these girls, and they are a joy in my life. My desire during the time God has given me with them is to pour into them everything that God has poured into me in the past few years so that they can be equipped to then go and pour into the many new believers that will be coming into the church in the coming years. At the moment Jenn and I travel to Veles about once a week to meet with the girls. My hope is to raise my level of involvement once we finish dealing with the visa issue, and as my language skills continue to develop.

God is moving powerfully in Veles, and the surrounding regions, where there are several church plants in the works. The level of hunger and thirst for God is an inspiration to me. Coming from a background where most people have at least known of Jesus their whole lives, and take this knowledge for granted, it is refreshing to see the way these young people come to God with a fresh zeal for Him and His word. It challenges me in so many ways to stop and think about how much of what I believe is simply religious tradition and how much is really the pure truth of God's word. It has a way of stripping away everything but Jesus, which is beautiful in the end. I have always wanted to go to the hard places, the places where trite answers, formulas and opinions of man don't work, because that is where the raw truth of the gospel is revealed, where Jesus shows up in power and does miracles. This is one of those places, and Jesus is showing up and meeting us, and it is beautiful.

In the mean time, we are facing some serious attack. Daki, who I mentioned before had surgery to remove a tumor from her brain was in the end diagnosed as having cancer. She is currently awaiting treatment. Please pray with us for healing.

One of the biggest obstacles to me ministering in Veles is language, because so few of them know English there. Trying to work through an interpreter seriously inhibits my ability to build personal relationships. This is one of my biggest motivators in language learning. Please pray with me that God will give me grace to learn quickly, a super natural ability to understand, and finances for classes .

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Miracle Opportunities

I believe that obstacles in my life are opportunities for God to display His miracle working power. I also believe that it is critical that these obstacles be covered in prayer. Please join me in praying as we are currently facing a great number of serious obstacles.

Standing on the platform at the train station waiting for the train that would take my parents on their way back home to America I received a phone call. It was to inform me that the visa we have been applying for, which we believed we would be receiving here, was not working out the way we had expected. We have been told that we need to return to America and appear at the embassy in person to get a stamp put on one of our pieces of paper. This would not be as much of an issue if it were not for the fact that due to our financial situation, making this trip will require a miracle. Opportunity number one, either for provision of money, or favor with the government that will make a government official speak up on our behalf and let us get the necessary paperwork through the mail.

One of the situations I can't go into detail about, but suffice it to say that someone we work with here was recently diagnosed with a life threatening condition.

I have also been having recurring symptoms of previous health problems and am working on deciding where to go for medical care to get to the bottom of things. This poses further financial issues.

But in the middle of all this we see the beauty of God's provision, he keeps reminding me He hasn't forgotten my needs, and will provide everything we need when we need it, even if I can't always see it in advance. Furthermore, I have experienced a new growth of vision for God's purpose for my time here, which has given a new level of focus to everything I do, and helped me not miss home as much. And then my parents recent visit was a tremendous blessing. Please join me in praying and believing for God's kingdom to come and His will to be done. Please pray for wisdom for us, for healing, and for provision.